Sometimes a quick reset is in order. You know – a change of scenery, pace, weather, etc – looking at things through a fresh lens. A cheap flight to Vegas, a short drive later, and voila, Zion NP beneath the feet.
Being that this was our first time in the park, folks who had spent considerable time in Zion suggested that in lieu of running and/or fastpacking the 50ish mile Zion Traverse, doing multiple, shorter trips would be preferable. So we heeded. Mid-April, with temps in the 70°s and the very beginning of the spring bloom. Not too crowded, but still some folks to contend within the first couple miles of all the main trails.
We spent the first day running/hiking a bunch of the main trails, and getting a feel for the lay of the land. Vertical relief about sums it up with gorgeous Navajo sandstone rising from the Virgin River for thousands of feet. The highlight of the day was an 8+ mile outing from Weeping Rock to Observation Point, where one is treated to panoramic views from 2100′ above the river. Highly recommended.
Day two consisted of catching one of the first shuttles to the Grotto TH. Our first destination of the day was Angel’s Landing where we jogged up the mostly runnable lower terrain until hitting the steeper, switch backed sections about 1.5 miles in. As this trail is a crowded, bucket list hike, there is guaranteed to be foot traffic no matter the time of day but an early morning start helps to mitigate the inevitable cluster fuck. And sure enough, despite our early start, we encountered a few parties that were in over their heads while we were on our descent. The views and the trail are stunning, but the human dynamic in such a place is also quite the marvel.
From here, it was a venture away from the crowds and into the backcountry towards the West Rim. This lollipop loop can eschew with the ~one mile side trip to Angel’s Landing and take you straight out to the junction of Telephone Canyon/West Rim Trail in just under five miles and ~2500′ of vertical gain. Here is also where you can find the only water source, Cabin Spring, which we scoped but did not use due to carrying just enough water in our running vests. From this junction, I’d recommend taking Telephone if you’re looking to do the loop, as this allows one to finish the second half of the loop with stunning vistas. Telephone Canyon is great, runnable singletrack, but with a different feel than the wide expanses of the West Rim. I’d say it is more enclosed and subtle in it’s beauty. Whereas the West Rim is in your face with miles of surreal sandstone scenery. If you haven’t been up here before, allot for extra time to gawk and take photos if that’s your thing. It was my perogative, for sure.
At the junction of Telephone and West Rim, one can descend North towards Potato Hollow for some out-and-back bonus miles (this is where the Zion Traverse goes) or you can round the bend to the West Rim. We took a brief detour towards Potato just to get a view of the land and soon turned back for the West Rim, as we only were carrying 2L of water apiece and didn’t want to cut it too close. The West Rim trail stays high for a while with views of Phantom Valley and further canyons to the south. It is quite the stunning landscape, especially seeing it for the first time. We were accompanied by a few backpackers and a handful of raptors aloft for this entire loop.
We took off the next afternoon, after stretching our legs for a few miles on one last trail out of the campground on the Watchman trail. Then back to the wretched city that is Vegas and soon back to home in Montana. Where, go figure, I was able to ski over a foot of fresh powder that very evening! Paradox and stark contrasts, to say the least.
Well, well. After a full summer’s hiatus from the old blog I am back to share with you some personal highlights of the summer season here near home in SW Montana and beyond. Some technical WordPress difficulties led me to discard a midsummer 1000+ word recap of my longest race to date (53 miles) but I’ll do my best to decant some of that here in the near future. In short, 50 miles is a lot longer than 30 🙂
The main theme that unfolded for the warm season has been mountain traverses and ridge running for long distance training – both single-push days and planned overnights with tiny packs/vests. Fun, big weekend objectives with moderate mid-week training led to an avg of 40 mile/10,000′ weeks from June through Sept. Both my mileage and vertical gain ramped up incrementally (and slowly) through the summer as strength and weather joined forces. This training revolved around three mountain ultras – an Old Gabe 50K early summer tune up, the HURL Elkhorn 50M mid summer main event and lastly, The Rut 50K end of summer celebration. All of these runs are heavy on the vert with each over 10K’ on the up, hence the emphasis on such in my training. This proved to translate well, thankfully.
This summer has been spectacular for high mountain adventures and the segue into autumn has been most pleasant with an abundance of sun, warmth, and limited precip. A bit of end-of-summer snow fell here at Sept’s finish, but nothing to shut down sneakers in the high country. Recent snow will certainly linger on some aspects until winter lays its white brushstrokes again… but until then I’m into soaking in as many golds and bronzes as I can.
Here’s a quick recap of this summer-into-fall highlights for me. Most of the distance/elevation stats came from my Suunto Ambit2 GPS watch. Thus, variance is to be expected. In chronological order:
–Beartooth: Beaten Path from East Rosebud to Cooke City. July – 26 miles, 5000′.
–Gallatin: Mt Blackmore to Hyalite Pk high route. July – 18 miles, 6700′.
–GTNP: Paintbrush/Cascade Canyon loop. August – 20 miles, 4300′.
-Bridger: High ridge traverse from Morgan Cemetary to the ‘M’ (Overnight). September – 35 miles, 17,000′.
-Crazy: Big Timber Canyon to Cottonwood traverse (Overnight). September – 23 miles, 6200′.
-Gallatin: Devil’s Backbone (Gallatin Crest) Portal Creek to Grotto Falls high traverse. October – 25 miles, 6100′.
Julia and I also spent quite a few starry nights out in the alpine whenever we could. We actually bivied more than spending time in a tent this year, learning from it and giving more opportunity to practice astro and night photography. I’ve got a lot to learn in this discipline but am really stoked on some preliminary results.
As always, I’m super thankful for the support that I receive from friends, family, sponsors, and those of you out there on the internets/the gram/the whatever/ that are filling the well, one drop at a time. I’m looking forward to Hyalite ice coming in here shortly and to the (hopefully) ridiculously deep winter that will follow. Cheers, folks!
It’s now running season for me – having just completed the Old Gabe 50K for my second year and looking forward to a couple other mountain ultras before the short lived Montana alpine running season is re-blanketed in white. For the few months of summer that we have here, I do my best to run the hills as much as possible. But when I feel the need to ski, there’s usually snow to be found if you walk far and high enough.
A week off and a short flight recently brought Julia and I southbound, to one of the most amazing places on Earth, the Grand Canyon. After a bit of pre-trip planning, we concluded that car camping on the South Rim and venturing out for a couple of runs would be an effective way to see a lot of the canyon in our short 3-night January stay. This was my second trip in over a decade and Julia’s first glimpse of the area. The inexpensive flights came with the small price of landing us in Phoenix, where we rented a car and then drove north, through Flagstaff and onto the canyon. We didn’t mind at all, as we drove through the desert and iconic Saguaro on the way to higher, colder elevations.
After our brief detour, it was onward and upward for the last five miles and 3000′. Fairly reasonable given the many mule switchbacks that lazily wind their way to the South Rim. By this time we could feel the legs starting to weigh but the scenery and solitude in such ridiculously outlandish country was enough to sustain. The last stretch went by easily and with much appreciation for the day. I’d like to give a big word of congrats to Julia for cruising on her longest run to date. Twenty miles in total and an experience not to be forgotten. Well done, J!
We experienced temps ranging from highs in the 50°s F to lows in the 20°s. From bluebird to overcast and even a a couple inches of snow fell one evening. Perfect running and hiking weather for the Canyon. Both Julia and myself used running vests from Ultimate Direction, much to our satisfaction. In these we carried wind pants and wind shirts, nanospikes, gloves and buffs, fuel for the day (mostly chews, gels, and bars), P&S camera, a liter of water apiece in soft-sided bottles (refilled along the way), a map, and a small emergency/FAK.
The only bit we didn’t need were the nanospikes, as nearly all of the trails that we encountered were free from snow and ice. Truly a pleasure. We did some hiking, sightseeing, and good eating for the remaining two days along the South Rim. Took in as much as we feasibly could during our short stay in such a large and intricate place. It was a wonderful trip and one that I imagine will trickle back to us for years to come.
Julia and I got married July 5th. It was the absolute best of times. Really though, words can’t describe.
We purchased our first house together also in July. Seized the day, per se. Trails out the front door and mountains minutes away.
I began early in the year with a desire to be in the best shape of my life. This I accomplished mainly through trail running and AT skiing. While numbers don’t even begin to tell the story, a bit helps: over 1000 trail miles ran and just about 300,000 vertical feet gained (and lost). Skiing not included and not forgotten. Many thousands of vert and ephemeral times to match.
For many years I wasn’t taking the best care of myself and decided to do something about it. It hasn’t always been straightforward, but the rewards are too great for my meager words to explain. It’s a continuing and iterative process that has me intrigued, excited, and looking forward to the future. I owe my father a huge thanks here, as it was he who introduced me to running over 20 years ago. He then pursued among other things, road running, hiking, backpacking, and overall the outdoors. I soon followed suit. I began road racing around ten years old and continued to do so for over 5 years. Other recreation took the place of running soon after I ran my first half-marathon accompanied by none other than my Dad. It’s been a while since then but now I’m back at it and loving the pursuit. So, thanks Dad for the early intro!
“The times…”, as Dylan so poetically coined. In all, this was a fairly eventful year in my life – one that I wouldn’t trade for a thing. I couldn’t have done it without the help, love, and support of many fine folks along the way. Friends, family, and strangers alike – I’m thankful for you all and immensely grateful for yet another trip around the sun. Thanks 2014, and welcome 2015. Here we come.